Despite the possibility that PG&E may finally consider a wired alternative to its controversial wireless digital smart meters, Fairfax decided to begin the process of nuisance abatement against the utility. This is the first step towards the town physically removing the that serve as gathering and transmission points for the smart meters.
"We might as well take that next step and see where it goes," said Fairfax Council Member Larry Bragman.
The antennas or transponder units, Fairfax claims, were put up . Fairfax has issued a number of citations and PG&E has said that the utility is not subject to local jurisdiction's ordinances.
A nuisance abatement proceeding – designed for those that defy town codes and do not amend the violation – is a hearing that occurs first in front of town staff, then in front of the council, and could ultimately be appealed to the courts. If it is decided that the PG&E antennas are a nuisance in violation of town code, then they will be abated or physically taken down.
It is not yet clear if PG&E will voluntarily participate in the nuisance abatement hearing.
"I don't know how we're going to get them to participate in a hearing, when they won't acknowledge our right to issue these citations," said Mark Lockaby, Fairfax's building official.
"State law gives the [California Public Utilities Commission] exclusive oversight over the utilities," said PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno, who also said he hadn't been notified by the town of the proceeding yet and so wouldn't comment on the specifics.
The decision Wednesday night by the Fairfax Town Council to begin the process came close on the heels of a demonstration in Stinson Beach this week where residents attempted to create a blockade and surrounded a Wellington Energy truck – which is serving as the contractor installing the meters in Marin. In Fairfax, there has also been at least .
The town is encouraging residents to simply report any installations of smart meters to the police and to the town staff.
Since Fairfax declared a moratorium on the PG&E meters within town limits,. PG&E also voluntarily agreed, at that time, to a . Only of the three meetings have ; the last was .
Bragman said it seems gas meters are being replaced. Town Manager Michael Rock also acknowledged that the police department has taken a number of reports of meters being installed. But, PG&E has said that they are only replacing meters that are broken or need replacement. In those cases, they don't have any older meters to replace them with, and so residents are getting the new digital smart meter. However, the meters that are being installed are not active and are not transmitting or receiving data.
In more than one case, Wellington contractors have been confronted by angry residents demanding to know why PG&E is violating both the town's moratorium and the utility's voluntary delay. In nearly every instance, the contractors have said they had no knowledge of the moratorium and were given work orders to install the meters.
The council also voted Wednesday night to send a certified letter to the subcontractors notifying them they were in violation of the moratorium.
"So, they can't feign surprise with such sincerity," said Bragman.
On the positive side, for those who have been concerned about the health, safety, privacy, and security issues surrounding the meters, PG&E has agreed to consider a wired alternative to the wireless meters at the behest of the Marin Energy Authority (MEA).
"They are looking into it and will get back to us in the next couple of weeks," said MEA Executive Director Dawn Weisz.
Moreno also acknowledged that MEA asked PG&E to look into wired meters and that they will be reporting on the feasibility of offering an alternative for some residents.
Weisz said that MEA, which doesn't have any control over the installation of the meters, may help PG&E with outreach and public education about energy efficiency, but only if customers are offered a choice about what type of meter they could have installed: wired or wireless.
For critics of the meters, the wireless transmission of individual usage data raises health concerns about electromagnetic frequencies and radio frequencies. Because the data is transmitted from the smart meters on individual's homes via a mesh cellular network to the transponder antennas on nearby poles, there is also concern that that network could easily be hacked into – making it easy for criminals to know when residents were home or what their daily habits were.
A wired option – using either fiber optic or a shielded cable – has been suggested by a number of opponents and is used as part of a smart grid in a number of countries, including Italy. In its application to the CPUC, the EMF Safety Network asked for a wired smart grid instead of the wireless one.
"At this point, as a first step, I would be satisfied with a moratorium and an opportunity to be heard by the CPUC," said Sandi Maurer, president of the EMF Safety Network.
PG&E has said in the past that a fiber-optic or wired option would be prohibitively expensive and would be a large-scale project involving construction and further disruption of residents' lives. The CPUC approved the wireless, digital meters as part of a larger smart grid. PG&E will finish the deployment of 10 million meters by 2012.
If PG&E does agree to a wired alternative meter at MEA's request, it will be the first such concession it has made.
"So, that's a glimmer of good news," said Fairfax Mayor Lew Tremaine.